Post-Sanders, What Binds Progressives Together?

I mostly liked Jamelle Bouie’s article on Bernie Sanders and his campaign or “movement” or whatever you want to label it. The piece is largely accurate, and it’s realistic and filled with solid advice for Sanders’ supporters. He does completely drop the ball on one thing, though, and it’s critically important.

Bouie begins by looking at the campaign rhetoric of prior liberal presidential candidates, Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, and Jerry Brown, and identifying similar rhetoric about the importance of “getting money out of politics.” But then he forgets about that message and he fails to pick up on any other similarities between previous progressive challengers to the status quo of the Democratic Party.

The result is an analysis of how progressives can leverage their progress in the Sanders campaign to do something similar to what conservatives did in the Republican Party after their bruising losses in the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, but without spelling out what progressives would really be seeking to accomplish.

There are some things that connect Sanders to previous candidates, for example Bill Bradley was skeptical about NATO-expansion into the former Soviet Union, and Sanders is eager for European countries to pay more of their freight to keeping the NATO deterrent funded and operational. There are other things that seem unique to Sanders, like his proposal for free state college tuition. Does anything really unite progressives outside of wanting less money in politics?

What would bind them together? It seems to me that the glue that held conservatives together was a series of losses, both political and judicial, but progressives are making incremental progress across the board in nearly every area except reversing the trend towards greater income inequality.

In any case, people need to be motivated, and it’s hard to predict which parts of Sanders’ platform will be picked up by the next progressive champion and how much their appeal can expand to attract other pieces of the Democrats’ coalition.

Bouie does a good job of explaining how progressives may lose the battle but win the long war, but he doesn’t do a good job of telling us the “what for.”

And I think the lack of a “what for” is the biggest impediment to making that “how” come true.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.